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Cats

Information on our feline friends

Our feline friends

Congratulations on your new addition to the family! Welcome to the practice if we have not seen you before and if we have then welcome back!

We hope that we will have many happy years ahead of us as we help you to look after your new furry friend. Over the last few decades knowledge of feline behaviour, disease and medicine has improved and we are able to look after our feline patients better than ever before.

Now that you have your kitten we thought we would give you a summary of what your kitten got up to before they went home with you and what normally happens in the first year of life and until they are elderly.

  • Periods of Development
  • Vaccinations
  • Flea & Worming Treatments
  • Microchipping
  • Behaviour
  • Lily Poisoning
  • Hyperthyroidism In Cats

Periods of Development

Neonatal (birth – 2 weeks)

During this time your kitten is totally dependent on mum for survival. At this stage life consists of mainly eating and sleeping. They spend about 4 hours of the day suckling, their eyes are closed and their hearing is poor. This means that touch and smell are very important. They shuffle towards warmth and of course the teats will be quite warm compared with the rest of the mother's body while she is producing milk. At this stage, brain development is immature.

Transitional (2 – 3 weeks)

Rapid physical and behavioural changes occur in this time and they start to become more independent. They can crawl and walk a little, albeit in a wobbly fashion. Their ears and eyes will open too. By three weeks their sense of smell is fully developed and they will start to eat solid food.

Socialisation (3 – 9 weeks)

This stage is very important, there is still much work being done on the socialisation period – also called the sensitive period. This stage is shorter than it is for puppies but it does vary for each individual kitten. It is during this time that most kittens will be re homed to new owners, so here we are, you have your kitten!

Hearing and vision develop further, they can right themselves by six weeks and maintain their own temperature. During this period different types of play emerge: social play involves playing with their brothers and sisters and type of play also goes through stages. The kittens start to play with toys or other objects and it is in fact called object play. Locomotor play, which really means moving about more and learning about balance, running and turning increases their skills for hunting later on. Interestingly, kittens that are weaned early at about 4 weeks tend to hunt more later in life than those kittens who are weaned later at say, 9 weeks of age. These later weaned kittens tend to hunt less.

It is important for kittens to have human contact before 7 weeks of age if they are going to be a social cat. Genetically, cats would seem to be either timid and afraid or bold and friendly and this is passed on through the father's genes. This means that some cats may never be confident around humans and we must remember to give those cats more space and time and not force them to be petted and so on. Slowly does it!

Just like puppies, it is important to expose kittens to new things gradually and not over expose them. Regular gentle handling between 3 and 9 weeks is very important. Fifteen minutes a day of stroking, looking at ears and teeth is plenty and will make all the difference – the time can be increased gradually as they become more used to you. If you are lucky enough to have a bold and friendly kitten they will be hanging off the curtains before you know it!

Juvenile (9 weeks to sexual maturity)

Sexual maturity occurs from around 4 – 10 months - Depending on the individual. Movement skills and coordination continue to improve and they become even more independent. You will notice that by 14 weeks play becomes a bit rougher and social fighting will occur. If you have older cats at home, introducing kittens early will be much easier. We can give you tips on introducing kittens to older cats if you would like us too. Adults Cats are seasonal polyoestrus animals. This means that during the breeding season they have several periods of sexual receptivity. Female cats do not ovulate unless they are mated. We call them induced ovulators. Females can mate with several males.

Social maturity (think teenagers!) - occurs later, normally between 36-48 months of age.

Senior

There are some studies underway at the moment assessing senile changes in the cat and we certainly see a number of diseases at this time. Hyperthyroidism and kidney disease are probably the most common problems that we see. It is important to notice any changes in behaviour at this time because if caught early there is much more that we can do for them. Cats get joint pain too so noticing that your cat is moving around less is also important. We all need pain relief at some point.

Vaccinations

Why have your cat vaccinated?

Vaccination is vital throughout your cat’s life. Within a few weeks of being born, your kitten will start to lose the natural resistance to disease which it gained from its mother’s milk and, sooner or later, it is almost certain to be exposed to infection of one kind or another through grooming, sharing litter trays or feeding bowls, fighting, or numerous other ways that are an everyday part of a cat’s life.

With vaccinations you can take the essential first steps in dramatically reducing the risk of your cat becoming seriously ill or even dying from disease. With a regular annual booster after that, you can give it the protection it needs and deserves for the rest of its life.

Feline Viral Infectious Respiratory Disease (Cat Flu)

There are two main viruses which cause what is commonly referred to as ‘cat flu’. These are feline rhinotracheitis and feline calici virus and they are present all year round in the United Kingdom cat population. Cat flu spreads very easily by direct and indirect contact between cats. Cats entering shows or being boarded during holidays are particularly at risk because they are placed in close proximity to each other.

Signs of the disease are:

  • a runny nose
  • weepy eyes
  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • lethargy

 If treated promptly, cat flu is hardly ever fatal, but can make your cat ill for some time and may leave it with snuffles and breathing difficulties for the rest of its life.

Feline Panleucopaenia

This disease, more commonly known as ‘enteritis’, occurs as an epidemic every few years. It is highly contagious and can affect cats of any age but is most common and severe in kittens.

It causes:

  • acute depression
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • dehydration
  • in many cases death

The few cats that do survive the disease tend to suffer from other diseases due to the damage caused to the immune system. This virus which causes feline enteritis can remain active in the environment for a very long time and spreads easily via contact with infected cats or their saliva, urine or faeces.

Feline Leukaemia

Feline leukaemia is a very serious, incurable disease which can take months or even years to fully develop and which is currently considered to be the single most significant infectious cause of death among the cat population in the western world. Cats of any age, but particularly those up to 3 years of age, can be affected.

The symptoms vary widely and range from damage to the immune system (making your cat much less able to fight off other infections) through to persistent anaemia and cancer. Once the symptoms have appeared, your cat will almost certainly die, but even those which appear healthy can harbour the leukaemia virus and spread the infection to others when they share food or water bowls or when they suffer bites during fights. If a pregnant cat has the virus, her kittens will usually be infected when they are born.

Rabies

This disease is not seen in the UK but vaccination is compulsory for cats travelling abroad on the ‘Animal Health Certificate’ or for export. Cats have to be microchipped before receiving a rabies vaccination. Please ask for more information at reception if you wish to travel with your cat. If you are planning to travel with your pet be sure to look at the DEFRA website before you start the scheme.

Chlamydia

This organism causes a conjunctivitis which may be recurrent and severe. A vaccine is available but the incidence of the disease can vary greatly. Please ask your vet for more information.

Flea & Worming Treatments

There are now many different flea and worm treatments available, such as:

Frontline Combo

This is a broad spectrum spot on application required every four weeks to treat and prevent fleas, flea larvae and ticks.

All of these product packets contain a number of pipettes. Please read the packet instructions carefully. If you are new to these products please feel free to ask us how to apply the pipette to your cat.

Important

Please be aware that some flea treatments contain a substance called Permethrin. Permethrin is TOXIC to cats and is more often than not fatal. We do see these very sad cases!

The products above do not contain permethrin but some pet shop products do. The most common scenario that we see is when a dog product containing permethrin is applied to cats by mistake.

Worm treatments

Again there are many products available. If you are using a spot on application it maybe that some intestinal parasites are already being treated. We can advise you on the type of worming product that you will need depending on which flea product you use to treat your cat. Cats that are good hunters will need more worming than cats that don’t hunt.

Wormers that we use regularly are:

  • Drontal – multiwormer
  • Droncit – tapeworms

We can also, if you find it easier, provide you with a topical wormer that is applied in pipette form. Tapewormer is advised every six months if you are using a monthly spot on that treats intestinal worms.

Microchipping

We can microchip your kitten/cat at any time. Many people opt for microchipping at the time of neutering so they are asleep under an anaesthetic when the chip is injected. Many kittens/cats do seem to tolerate this procedure when they are awake so let us know if you would like this done at any time.

Please make sure that you register your kitten straight away and particularly remember that if you move house these details will need up dating.

Behaviour

If you would like any information about the behaviour of your kitten please ask us at the surgery. Some behaviour is completely normal and some behaviour is not. If you are concerned we can help you.

The most common problems that we encounter are:

  • Reluctance using a litter tray
  • Going off food
  • Multi cat household problems and introducing kittens to existing cats (or dogs)
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea

Anything your pet does is a behaviour! Please try to notice any differences in behaviour during the lifetime of your pet, they may not be a problem but sometimes a small change in behaviour can give an indication that something is wrong.

Lily Poisoning

Do not keep lilies in your garden or in the house!

Members of the Lilium and Hermerocallis genera are toxic to cats.

This includes:

  • Easter lilies
  • Day lilies
  • Tiger lilies
  • Stargazer lilies
  • Rubrum Lilies
  • Japanese Show Lilies
  • Asiatic Lilies

Other “lily” plants such as Peace lilies or lily-of-the-valley, do not cause the kidney injury associated with members of Lilium and Hemerocallis, although some of these plants are toxic in their own right (lily-of-the-valley is toxic to the heart).

All parts of the lily including the stem, leaves, petals, stamens and pollen are poisonous to cats.

Kittens are especially prone because they like to explore and chew many things in their environment. Older cats might just get some pollen on their paws or coat, then ingest the pollen as they groom their fur later.

Lilies cause acute kidney failure in cats only a few hours after ingesting lily parts. Many cats vomit after chewing or eating parts of a lily. However, if a cat has been exposed to a lily outdoors, the family may be unaware of the exposure.

Cats are extremely sensitive to lily poisoning. While the exact toxin is still unidentified, cats who are not treated immediately develop acute renal failure and die, generally within 3-6 days. Cats with acute renal failure typically show vomiting, depression, reduced appetite or complete loss of appetite and dehydration. Lab tests will show increases in urea, creatinine, phosphorous and potassium. The urine contains casts, protein, glucose and is very dilute.

Cats who have been seen near lilies, as well as those who have definitely ingested any part of a lily, should be seen by us immediately. Cats who are treated within 18 hours of exposure to a lily generally recover. However, in cases where treatment is delayed, the prognosis is generally poor and many cats are euthanised. Even if a cat has survived lily poisoning, it can still be left with chronic renal problems or pancreatitis.

Your cat will receive intravenous fluids in the hospital for approximately 48 hours. Lab test will be done when your cat is admitted to the hospital and will be repeated in 24 and 48 hours. There may be ongoing treatment necessary. Cats who receive treatment within 18 hours of exposure generally do ok. Cats who are treated later typically do not survive, even with aggressive therapy.

Hyperthyroidism In Cats

This is one of the most commonly diagnosed hormone diseases in cats.

We see many cats suffer from an overactive thyroid. Many of you might put the signs just down to ageing. Over the last 20-30 years a great deal of research has been done on this disease, and treatment has improved as a result.

The thyroid glands sit in the neck, one either side of the windpipe, with occasional extra smaller glands present elsewhere in the body in some cats. The glands produce thyroid hormones which are involved in regulating metabolism, so they have an effect on most systems of the body, ie. the heart, liver, kidneys, blood pressure etc. The glands can become enlarged and overactive, producing too much thyroid hormone. This is usually because of a benign (non-cancerous) change in the thyroid gland, but more rarely it can be caused by a nasty tumour called a thyroid carcinoma.

The typical cat with hyperthyroidism will be a middle aged to older cat with some or all of the following symptoms:

  • always loss of weight
  • always increased appetite (constantly asking for food)
  • occasionally increased thirst
  • increased heart rate
  • heart murmur
  • restlessness or hyperactivity
  • digestive upset (vomiting and diarrhoea)
  • an unkempt coat
  • swelling of the thyroid glands in the neck

These sorts of symptoms will make us suspicious that hyperthyroidism is the cause, but it can only be confirmed with a blood test to measure the levels of thyroid hormones. We usually combine this with other tests to check kidney and liver function and to check for diabetes, as all these can have similar symptoms and of course there might sometimes be more than one problem going on.

If hyperthyroidism is diagnosed, we usually begin treatment with tablets that reduce the production of thyroid hormone. The tablets cannot be crushed or split! The dose and frequency will depend on which drug is used and on how high the thyroid hormone levels were on the blood test. After 2 or 3 weeks a second blood test will show us whether the levels are becoming closer to normal, at which time the dosage may be changed. If this treatment suits your cat, it can be continued long term with regular monitoring by blood tests.

However, some cats are harder to give tablets to than others, and a few will suffer from side effects. We now have this medication available as a gel that you can smear into the cat’s ear twice daily if tablets are too difficult to give to your cat. This product is still very new, so our experience is a bit limited.

Another treatment option is surgical removal of the thyroid glands. The operation does involve some risks, particularly the risk of damaging other small structures next to the thyroids, like the parathyroid glands. (These are important in regulating the levels of calcium in the blood, and if damaged during surgery supplementation with calcium could be needed.) A cat with heart problems may be a poor risk for surgery, but often tablets can be used first to improve health so surgery is a better option, and additional drugs to control any heart problems may be given. In most cases, cats which have had their thyroids removed will not need to take tablets, but often the problem can still return later, if for example the cat has some smaller gland tissue which was not removed with the main glands. This extra thyroid tissue can be located anywhere in the neck or even within the chest.

In some cats only one thyroid is affected at first so only one is removed, then some years later the same condition could occur on the other side. We rarely perform this operation - it is a bit out of fashion now. The other main treatment available is with radioactive iodine, which is a specialist treatment only available at some centres in the UK. Chris has been treating many cats with this treatment when working at the Barton Veterinary Hospital in Canterbury. Radioactive iodine is given to the cat by injection and it becomes concentrated in the thyroid gland, where the radioactivity destroys the damaged tissue. One of the disadvantages of this treatment is that the cat has to be hospitalised for several weeks because of safety issues surrounding the radioactive material used. It is not dangerous to the cat itself but has to be handled safely to protect people working with it. The cost of this treatment is around £1500!

Hills Petfood has recently developed a new diet Y/D. This is a diet that does not contain any iodine. Iodine is needed by the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone. No iodine - no hormone (in theory at least). We had some decent success with this diet but it is essential your cat only eats this diet - no milk, no feeding at neighbours, no catching mice!

We still need to see how successful this treatment is long term... Decisions on which treatment would be best for an individual cat are best made in conjunction with us at White Cliffs Vets. Where complicating factors like heart disease or kidney disease are present, these need to be treated as well. Once diagnosed, the outlook for a cat with hyperthyroidism is usually very good.

Whichever treatment is used, it is likely to prolong life and improve the quality of life.

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